Rashomon and Blowup: A Study of Truth
In a story, things are often not quite what they seem to be. Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon and Michaelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up are good examples of stories that are not what they first appear to be. Through the medium of film, these stories unfold in different and exiting ways that give us interesting arguments on the nature of truth and reality.
Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon tells the story of a murder. It flashes back to the event four times, each time as told by a different person. The present-time section of the plot occurs at a gate under which some characters take shelter from the rain. Three men can be found there - a woodcutter who repeatedly proclaims his misunderstanding, a priest who says that what has occurred is worse than anything else, and a third man who runs in from the rain for shelter and merely seems interested in a good story, as long as it's not a "sermon" from the priest. At the prompting of the third man, the woodcutter tells the story - providing the interesting story device of stories (the murder from 4 perspectives) within a story (the trial) within a story (the men at the gate). The tale he tells revolves around a bandit, Tajomaru, who has attacked a couple wandering through the woods, tying the husband up and forcing himself on the wife. The woodcutter found the husband dead in the forest, but what actually happened between these people is inconclusive. Tajomaru, the wife, the husband (through a medium), and the woodcutter all present different and irreconcilable versions of the events in question to the authorities.
The first version, as told by Tajomaru, portrays him in a brave light. It has him taking the woman and falling in love with her. He fights a duel with the husband, displaying dazzling swordsmanship, and kills him. Tajomaru's story seems plausible until the wife tells her story. In her version, she is violated and then rejected by her husband because of her violation. The film is not terribly clear on how the husband dies in this version. The husband is next to tell his version of the story, and it is again wildly divergent. His version has the woman begging Tajomaru to take her with him and to kill the husband. This causes Tajomaru to reject the woman and free the husband. The husband claims that he took his own life and that someone stole an expensive dagger from his breast after he killed himself. It is after these three tales that we return to the men at the gate. The third man sees through the woodcutter and deduces that the man actually saw the event and did not tell this to the court. He forces the woodcutter's story out of him. The woodcutter's version is perhaps the most believable of all, and perhaps that's because it portrays everyone at their lowest common denominator. Yet his story could also be completely fictional, as if he had merely combined various parts from the previous tales. Perhaps by telling this lie and believing it, he is attempting to resolve his confusion over the issue.
The woodcutter's rendition begins with Tajomaru trying to persuade the woman to go away with him. She wants the men to fight for her, but the husband is disgusted with her and refuses. However, the wife quickly turns her tears into laughter and attacks the men's pride until they reluctantly begin their combat. The blundering sword fight that results contrasts sharply with the bravery and skill Tajomaru described earlier. It's interesting that the earlier fight seemed perfectly plausible within the framework of the story until the woodcutter's more realistic version makes it seem unlikely.
Rashomon plays with what we can perceive as truth. It paints a picture for us, and then tears it down when presenting another possibility which is equally likely. The film leaves us with myriad questions. What, here, is truth? Which tale, if any, is what truly happened? Do any of these stories have any truth in them? The image...
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